Kusp Pediatric Dentistry

Should I invest in a sports guard?

As a pediatric dentist, one of the most common questions I get from parents is whether their child needs a sports guard. The short answer is yes with some caveats and I’ll explain why sports guards are essential for the safety of your children’s teeth during physical activities and sports.

Let’s start by answering this question: what is a sports guard? A sports guard is a protective device that fits over the teeth and gums to prevent injury during sports and other physical activities. It is usually made of soft, flexible plastic that molds to the teeth and provides a cushioning effect to absorb shock and protect against impact. According to the AAPD (2018) ” It has been demonstrated that dental and facial injuries can be reduced significantly by introducing mandatory protective equipment.8,9 Currently in the U.S., high school football, lacrosse, and ice hockey require protective equipment.10 Popular sports such as baseball, basketball, soccer, softball, wrestling, volleyball, and gymnastics lag far behind in injury protection for girls and boys. Baseball and basketball have been shown to have the highest incidence of sports-related dental injuries in children seven to 17 years of age.1 More specifically, baseball accounted for the most dental injuries within the seven to 12 year old age group, while basketball was the most frequent sport associated with dental injuries in the 13 to 17 year age group.”

mouth guards - Kusp Pediatric Dentistry in Beverley Hills, CA

Many parents believe that sports guards are only necessary for contact sports like football and hockey. However, any sport or activity that involves physical contact or the potential for falls can lead to dental injuries. This includes basketball, soccer, gymnastics, skateboarding, and even non-contact sports like baseball and softball. In fact, one of the most common dental injuries outside of team sports is the use of trampolines (where a rogue knee can bump a tooth or knock it out!).  Further, according to the American Dental Association, athletes who do not wear sports guards are 60 times more likely to suffer dental injuries than those who do. Dental injuries can include chipped or broken teeth, knocked-out teeth, and injuries to the lips, tongue, and cheeks. 

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 While it’s true that some sports injuries are impossible to prevent, many of them can actually be avoided. According to the AAPD wearing helmets, facemasks, and mouthguards has been proven to lower the likelihood and severity of dental and orofacial injuries. Although facemasks may not have a big impact on the risk of orofacial trauma from player-to-player contact, they can make a big difference in cases where contact is made with an object.

For children, dental injuries can be especially traumatic and can lead to long-term oral health problems. Children’s teeth are still developing and are more vulnerable to injury than adult teeth. Injuries to baby teeth can also affect the development of permanent teeth and lead to orthodontic problems later on. Also when it comes to sports-related injuries, dental and orofacial injuries also impact the upper lip, maxilla, and maxillary incisors. Shockingly, 50 to 90 percent of dental injuries involve the top front teeth. Other commonly seen sports injuries, in order of frequency, are lacerations (cuts on the lips, face, gums and tongue) , crown fractures (when the top part of the tooth breaks), and avulsions (complete loss of the permanent tooth)

So, what can parents do to protect their children’s teeth during physical activities? The answer is simple: invest in a sports guard. Sports guards are easy to find and are available in most sporting goods stores or can be custom-made by a dentist for a perfect fit. Depending on the age of your child, you have several options in terms of the type of sports guard to invest in. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) classifies mouthguards by three categories (AAPD 2018)

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Type 1  Custom-made sports guards are the best option as they provide the most protection and comfort. They are also more likely to be worn consistently as they fit properly and are less likely to fall out during physical activity. These are much more expensive however and if your child is under the age of eleven or twelve a custom sports guard may not be worth the money because your child is in a transitional dental period called the “mixed dentition” where they may have multiple loose teeth with permanent teeth replacing them. This would force you to make a custom-guard every few months to accommodate the new teeth. However, if your child is heavily into a particular sport, this is a worthwhile investment. 

Type II – Mouth-formed, also known as boil-and-bite, mouthguards are the ones that are usually sold at sporting goods stores, on Amazon, and are readily available for purchase. Once heated they are adapted to the teeth with finger pressure, biting, and molding with the tongue. While this is a very cost effective option, the protection they offer varies across brands and is limited to how well the guard is adapted to the teeth. However, this may be an ideal solution for families who do not want to invest in an expensive custom piece while their child is still in their transitional dentition or  have baby teeth in the mouth.

Type III – Stock mouthguards, according to the AAPD (2018) are also bought at any store and do not allow for any modification; these are usually held in place by the child by simply clenching the teeth together in order to offer dental protection. Unfortunately, having to hold the guard in place may interfere with breathing during activity and speaking making them more difficult to use. However when a child has braces or orthodontic appliances these may be the only real option.

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In conclusion, sports guards are an essential component to the overall safety of children during physical activities. They provide a cushioning effect to absorb shock and protect against impact, reducing the risk of dental injuries. Parents should invest in a sports guard for their child, whether they play contact or non-contact sports, to ensure their long-term oral health and well-being. As pediatric dentists, we are here to support your child’s athletic interest and are always happy to answer any questions!